Published in the July 27, 2017 edition


NORTH READING — The Community Impact Team is going to be undertaking a multi-pronged approach toward preventing substance abuse among adolescents in town.

Drug Free Communities Project Coordinator Leah Maihos gave an overview of the Pride Survey during Monday’s School Committee meeting. The CIT hired Maihos after the town was awarded a Drug Free Communities grant last fall. North Reading is one of two Massachusetts communities that were awarded the coveted $625,000 federal grant.

The survey, which was approved by the school board in February, was administered to students in grades 6-12 in early spring. Maihos said the survey was designed to help the CIT “learn and understand the use and perceptions of risk associated with alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and prescription drugs.” She said the data was compared to national data.

Additionally, Maihos said a parent survey was administered to 183 parents of children attending middle and high school.

Survey results

Maihos said the Pride Survey revealed “there is an increase in use across all substances as students get older.” She also said the survey revealed substance abuse “peaks at grade 12.”

“Sixth and eighth graders reported the lowest percentage of non-substance use,” said Maihos. “Twelfth graders reported the lowest percentage of non-substance use.”

According to Maihos, “93.1 percent of students see tobacco as the most harmful substance.” She said “27.3 percent of students see marijuana as the least harmful substance.”

Maihos said “alcohol was reported as the easiest substance to obtain across all grade levels,” as “65.9 percent of 12th graders reported alcohol was easy or very easy to get.”

“It’s a pretty high number,” said Maihos.

Maihos said 100 percent of parent responders stated they perceive tobacco, marijuana and prescription drugs as a “moderate or great risk of harm.”

“As students age, the perception of parental disapproval of substance use declines,” Maihos added.

The survey revealed the most popular place for students to abuse alcohol and drugs is at a friend’s house, which totaled 17.7 percent.

Next steps

Maihos outlined the CIT’s next steps moving forward. She said the CIT will be looking to utilize the seven strategies for community change. The strategies are providing information, enhancing skills, providing support, enhancing access and reducing barriers, changing consequences, physical design, and modifying and changing policies.

“We are going to work on using prevention strategies more effectively by using this survey data,” said Maihos.

Maihos also said the CIT will be partnering with the School Department to identify additional prevention strategies.

The CIT and School Department will be working to increase protective factors and decrease risk factors as well. According to the survey, “protective factors are conditions or attributes in individuals, families, communities or a larger society” in order to reduce high-risk behaviors. Risk factors are “any attribute, characteristic or exposure of an individual that increases the likelihood of developing a disease or injury or increases the chance of participating in high-risk behaviors.”

Maihos said the CIT will be placing a greater emphasis on alcohol as part of a revamped 12-Month Action Plan.

“When we originally did it, we didn’t focus too much on alcohol,” said Maihos. “It was still one of the drugs that we focused on, but we realized how high of a percentage alcohol use is in 12th grade and across all grades. We are going to do more prevention strategies.”

Additionally, Maihos said the CIT is currently developing two October Town Meeting warrant articles. The CIT is looking to establish a social host ordinance regarding illegal alcohol and drug use, and a social host ordinance pertaining to drug paraphernalia. In an interview with the Transcript, Maihos said she is working with town counsel KP Law to craft the proposed bylaws.

During the meeting, Youth Services Director Amy Luckiewicz said the proposed social host ordinances would involve a civil fine and potentially publishing the names of people who allow underage drinking or drug use at parties.

“The police would have a little more power in issuing fines,” said Luckiewicz. “We have seen that be effective in communities similar to ours. There has been discussion if a fine close to $300 is going to be enough or does it have to be made public that someone hosted a party.”

Maihos said the CIT will be partnering with the school’s system heath teachers to “provide data that helps support the health education curriculum.” She also said the CIT will be presenting the Pride Survey’s results to the Board of Selectmen in September and will be tapping a presentation for NORCAM in August.


School Committee member Scott Buckley asked Maihos if there are any other initiatives the CIT and School Department will be undertaking to curb substance abuse.

Maihos said the CIT and the School Department will be hosting a workshop about making good choices. She also said the CIT will be conducting the Pride Survey again in the fall of 2018.

Luckiewicz said she and Maihos met with the elementary school principals to discuss ways to incorporate substance abuse prevention strategies in the three schools.

“We work mostly with middle and high school students, and there is an opportunity to have earlier education around this topic,” said Luckiewicz. “We have a pretty decent grant going on here and we are willing invest in that to have a captive audience, which takes place in the schools. We understand that the teachers and principals are asked to cram a lot of curriculum in a short amount of time. There are opportunities to fund a D.A.R.E.-like program and have people come in. The principals are open to the concept.”

Luckiewicz encouraged the School Committee to reach out to her and Maihos if they have any suggestions.

In response to a question from School Committee Chairman Mel Webster about opioid overdoses, Police Chief Michael Murphy said the town’s opioid overdose data is “pretty consistent based on the population of our town.”

“Our opioid problem is the same as the state and the whole country,” said Murphy.

Murphy said his biggest concern is marijuana use by local adolescents.

“I would have loved to have done this before marijuana was legalized last year just to see how much the impact of legalization was on the use,” said Murphy. “We are guessing, but I would say it spiked the use because essentially if it’s legal, it can’t be bad for you. But if you look at tobacco, the perception is its really bad for you even though it’s legal.”

Murphy would like the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to mandate substance abuse curriculum in schools.

“Zero percent is what we need,” said Murphy. “I often deal with kids after the fact, and it’s hard to go back in time.”

Luckiewicz noted tobacco use dropped nationally after tobacco taxes were increased.

“The higher the taxes, the lower the use,” said Luckiewicz.

Luckiewicz said, “there is a casual attitude about alcohol use in this town.”

“This is a community issue,” said Luckiewicz. “The community needs to decide if almost 52 percent of our 12th graders using alcohol is acceptable. We know there are a lot of public noes and a lot of private yeses. We know that through parties that the police have had to break up. We know that from text messages and pictures of kids holding a red Solo cup that are posted on social media.”

CIT K-12 Action Team member Rita Mullin noted she has left graduation parties because she has witnessed underage drinking.

“Staying there means I think it’s okay,” said Mullin. “If you have the social ordinances, you are telling the town you are not supposed to be doing it. We have a lot of parents in town who don’t think it’s bad.”

Superintendent of Schools Jon Bernard commended Maihos for “trying to integrate herself into the schools and the community to identify where the weak spots are.”

“We are now in the recommendation stage of looking at things at we need to do,” said Bernard. “As someone who sits on the CIT Board, we are displeased we have to address these kind of things. But we now have the resources behind us to really make an impact.”